Homer couple finding wide appeal for buckets filled with junk food

HOMER – Curt and Teri Dickinson don't cotton to fancy snack foods like gourmet crackers or cheeses with weird names.

No sirree. Give 'em candy bars and chips. Beef jerky and aerosol cheese.

Plain ol' American junk food – that's what the Dickinsons like at home, and that's what they pile into galvanized buckets for customers of their thriving sideline, Redneck Snack Baskets.

The Dickinsons, of rural Homer, hatched their idea for Redneck Snack Baskets soon after Christmas 2004.

Several hours after their big holiday dinner, Teri Dickinson remembers, her family was hungry again. And she wasn't about to get back in the kitchen and cook some more.

So, she suggested, let's tear open those pretty gift baskets we got and graze on the snacks. But what a disappointment – all they found among the edibles were fancy little things nestled on beds of fake grass.

"We opened all seven of them and didn't find a daggone thing to eat," she recalled. "Nothing I'd eat, and even the dogs were turning up their noses at them."

About a month later, Teri Dickinson said, she got to thinking. She and her husband couldn't be the only ones wishing somebody would stick some real food in a gift basket – and instead of a wicker basket, make it a container you could really use.

She approached Curt about starting a different kind of gift-basket business, and he pondered it, did some research, and before the couple could say, "Well, shut my mouth," they were in business as Redneck Snack Baskets.

It was launched as a sideline because Curt and Teri already had day jobs in Champaign. Curt, 51, is facility and equipment manager for EpiWorks, and Teri, 45, was the manager of JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts until a short time ago.

The sideline is becoming increasingly busy, even with Teri's 14-year-old son, Steve Thomas, helping out.

Curt Dickinson said the demand hasn't let up as much as they thought it would after the holiday season this year. In a year and a half, they've shipped baskets to 40 states and have even been approached about franchising the concept in Canada, he said.

The Dickinsons believe they're getting a big boost from the mentions they get on comedian Jeff Foxworthy's weekly radio program.

Foxworthy gives Redneck Snack Baskets a plug every week when he gives away one of its food tubs – which the Dickinsons supply free in exchange for the advertising.

"That has gotten us a huge audience," Curt Dickinson said.

Love junk food, love America

A trip to the Redneck Snack Baskets Web site (www.rednecksnackbaskets.com) lets you know right away you're dealing with patriotic folks and junk food lovers.

Waving flags and the Statue of Liberty decorate the home page. The "About Us" section disdains "foo-foo food" and hails the kind of snacks "you can take into the front room and munch on while watching NASCAR or football or whatever takes your fancy."

The baskets are crammed with snacks like Moon Pies, Slim Jims, bagged chips, candy and the Dickinsons' latest find, Illinois-based Aunt Em's Gourmet Kettle Korn that the couple has fallen in love with so much, they now include a free sackful with orders.

Curt Dickinson said he and his wife don't believe in using fake grass or any other kind of filler in their pails and buckets, which are offered in sizes ranging from the Jim Bob to the Big Bubba.

"We want everything to be edible or reusable," he said. "We have a running joke that there's a thousand and one uses for the pail once it's done."

Some folks say they use the pails for planters, Curt Dickinson said, and they make good spittoons for mothers-in-law.

He even hears the military is finding uses for those pails received by soldiers in Iraq, he said.

The Dickinsons designed a special basket of nonmeltable snacks for soldiers stationed in Iraq and are absorbing the extra shipping costs themselves.

"We'd like to send a whole lot more of those over there," Curt Dickinson said. "We make about nothing on those, but we love getting them over to the guys."

He and his wife also support the military by donating a dollar from every basket they sell to Freedom Alliance – an organization that provides scholarships for children of American soldiers who have been killed or are missing in action.

"I don't know if it's a selling point to anybody," Curt Dickinson said. "We don't really care. These people give their final measure for us, and the least we can do is help educate their children."

How red is your neck?

The Dickinsons said they've been surprised by how many states their orders – taken by phone and online – are coming from.

"There apparently are rednecks all over the country," Curt Dickinson said.

Do he and his wife consider themselves rednecks?

You betcha, and proud of it.

"My wife's a redneck, and I'm kind of a born-again redneck," Curt Dickinson said. "We live out in the country. We take care of ourselves. We don't expect the government to take care of our every need. We work hard and play hard and have a good time."

Teri, who grew up in small towns in Sangamon County, described herself as a thrifty person who expects you to eat like a healthy horse when you sit down at her table.

Curt, she said, used to live in Chicago, and had to be educated some to redneck ways.

"Poor boy didn't know you were supposed to save bacon grease," she marveled.

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